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UK RED – what are we reading? A workshop for librarians, archivists and information managers

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The improved UK RED (Reading Experience Database, 1450-1945) was launched with a series of two-day workshops. The first, What are we reading? A workshop for librarians, archivists and information managers, took place on the 24th February at the Open University; the second, Using RED for Teaching and Research, was held the following day.

I attended the first workshop with an interest in how the project had developed, how the information was collated, and how the resource was used. The day featured an excellent series of presentations from enthusiastic members of the project team. A potted history of UK RED was followed by a practical demonstration of the new database, interface and additional features which included easier search features and essays on the reading experience using the RED data. A researcher at the OU outlined the difficulties of finding evidence for reading illustrated with some telling examples of soldiers reading during World War I.

UK RED relies on the contribution of volunteers – a successful model as over 30,000 records are available on the database. The hands-on workshop allowed attendees to use the new submission forms (as used by volunteers) to add relevant references to the database (once approved by an editorial team). A number of examples were given – the online diary of orientalist Gertrude Bell; and two manuscript sources, the minute book of a Quaker book club of the 1890s, and the commonplace book of writer Vernon Lee. The workshop was a two-way exercise: showing how simple iit is to add to the resource and allowing the project team to collate feedback on the process.

The following sessions looked at UK RED’s engagement with the wider research community (via linked data), its own volunteer community and the wider public. A theoretical discussion on the use of linked data for datasets, archives and libraries was summarized, followed by an impromptu demonstration of the capabilities of this new direction in data and the internet. Using an example from the UK RED database – Virginia Woolf – and performing a SPARQL query, a page was generated showing not only the UK RED results (a list of books she had read) but also the Wikipedia entry (via Dbpedia) and a series of tags/indexed terns such as women writers, writers who committed suicide, lesbian writers etc…which suggested other avenues of research and, if clicked on, opened up other terms for consideration. By clicking on the book titles users could see the Wikipedia entry and other linked sources such as library holdings. The possibilities of linking and displaying such diverse material were mind-boggling.

The last session covered UK RED’s engagement with its volunteers and the general public. As well as the usual promotional events they were exploring social networking communication tools such as Twitter, Flickr, and Zotero.

All together it was an enjoyable and informative day and I left with the enthusiasm to add references to evidence of reading I have discovered.